Repent and Turn to God

Title: Repent and Turn to God


Text: Acts 3:1-4:26

Time: May 11th, 2008

In this study of the Book of Acts, a few weeks back, I reviewed the Apostle Peter’s first Christian sermon after Pentecost, today I’ll review Peter’s second sermon. To be very honest, the two sermons sound very similar in style and content. In fact, we might conclude that we see here a pattern of preaching that would characterize not just the Apostle Peter but all the apostles as they proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ in the first century. Now if we compare Peter’s first two sermons, his preaching of the gospel, with what passes for preaching in most churches coming from most pastors, we find that there is a vast difference in both style and content. One of the most striking features that we see in Peter and the other apostles, but what is absent in most preaching today by pastors in churches is repentance. In Peter’s first sermon – the first Christian sermon from the official beginning of the church at Pentecost – repentance played a major role, it was a major theme, even the major theme. Here again, in Peter’s second sermon, we again see repentance at the heart of the message. Yet if we were to survey sermons in the typical Christian church today, in this country and around the world, we would probably find that repentance doesn’t play much of a part in messages, and in many cases, plays no part at all in church sermons today. Why is that? Why have pastors and teachers in the Christian church today omitted a main, if not the main, component of the gospel message of the early church? It is a curious and strange situation when the original sermons of the Christian church, their style and content, are largely ignored by preachers today, and other styles and contents are substituted instead. Is it any wonder why the Christian church and/or the average Christian today is so weak? Isn’t it easy to understand why the typical Christian today cannot be distinguished from the average non-Christian in belief and behavior? Christians today are not hearing the genuine and authentic biblical preaching that can alone feed their soul. Instead, they are being fed a diet of feel-good self-help psychology aimed at helping them obtain high self-esteem and succeed or achieve a comfortable life in the here-and-now, while utterly neglecting real eternal spiritual issues. Early Christians, in contrast, were fed by the apostles with true spiritual food, revelation from God about important things, not trivial matters like what is taught today in countless churches. And so again, this week, we’ll revisit another one of the Apostle Peter’s sermons, and hear once again what real spiritual Christian preaching should sound like. Once we get a taste of God’s authentic Word delivered by a man of God, we’ll never want to go back to the kind of fast food, junk food served Sunday after Sunday in many churches today. So let’s turn once again to the Apostle’s preaching and see if we can’t hear what God is trying to teach us from it. Three things are important in Peter’s message.

First, conviction of sin was preached. Acts 3:13-15, “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murdered be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” We see again, Peter pointing the finger of guilt and blame at the Jews for the sin of murdering Christ. We saw this back in chapter two, verse 23, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” And also in verse 36, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Now why is Peter playing the blame game here again? Why is the Apostle laying a guilt trip on these people? In both instances, he’s trying to get the people to acknowledge their sins, to grasp the gravity of their sinful condition, to feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit tugging at their hearts. Why? Because everyone – past and present — has a natural propensity to excuse their own sins, to make light of their own disobedience to God, to belittle evil in their own lives, to rationalize, explain away, avoid confronting sin in their lives. As a good preacher, Peter is trying to get people to face up to their own sinful hearts and in order to do that he has to be painfully direct or else they’d weasel out of any accountability before God in respect to their sins. Now there is a big risk in doing what Peter did in his preaching, and that risk is alienating the audience, stirring up hostility and resentment among the people towards the preacher. That’s why most pastors and teachers in churches don’t preach like Peter and the original apostles preached – confrontational and painfully direct; pastors today usually try to stay away from that kind of preaching. Why? Because people get upset, they get mad, they get angry, they get offended, they leave, they leave mad, or if they don’t leave they stir up opposition against that kind of preaching, they try to get the preacher fired, they react in all kinds of violent ways. I don’t know if you remember, but last year there was a shooting in Wisconsin in a church where a gunman was upset with a pastor’s sermon. Here’s what the paper said, “(The gunman) walked out of a recent sermon sort of in a huff. ‘Something that the minister said he was upset about.’” He came back later and killed the pastor. Now that’s why pastor’s today don’t preach for conviction of sin – it upsets people, they get mad, they leave the church, or worse. But the truth is, whether it convicts or comforts, whether in season or out, the Word of God must be preached, and sin must be exposed. When my sin and your sin is exposed it’s not comfortable, in fact it’s convicting, but it’s absolutely necessary. We have to deal honestly with our sins or else we are just playing a religious game – which I’m sad to say much of Christianity is playing today. Sin is real, it must be dealt with, not avoided, no matter how it makes us feel. Peter and the apostles had the courage to preach sin properly, and so too must the church, especially pastors, regain the courage to deal with sin properly on Sunday also. Good, healthy conviction of sin will result.

Second, repentance from sin was preached. Acts 3:17-19, 26, “Now brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that time of refreshing may come from the Lord. . . . When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” Here we see the emphasis on repentance again, just like before in Peter’s first sermon, Acts 2:37-38, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” It’s almost the very same scene, only instead of on the day of Pentecost, this time it’s in the Temple, but the same dynamics are at work. Peter preaches a really strong message that convicts the people of their sins. Their consciences are stirred, their sins are exposed, they feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit for their guilt, and they seek out a remedy for their guilty conscience. The remedy is repentance from sin. Now there are two aspects of repentance – repentance from sin and repentance towards God. Let me talk about the first aspect, repentance from sin, turning away from sin. Acts 3:26 emphasizes this aspect of repentance, “When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” According to this verse it’s a blessing to be turned from your wicked ways of sin. Now we don’t normally think of repentance as a blessing. In fact, most people try to avoid repenting, and will do almost anything and everything to avoid it. Repentance means change, and most people will do anything to avoid change, especially changing their heart. Our pride likes to take the attitude of “If I had wanted to change, I’d have changed. If I feel a certain way, it’s because I want to feel that way. If I do something, it’s because I wanted to do it. Don’t try to change me!” That’s pride. But according to the Bible, change is a blessing if we are going the wrong way, and sin is the wrong way always. So it’s really a blessing when the Spirit convicts us of sin and begins to bring about repentance from sin. We shouldn’t fight this process, we should welcome it and embrace it; it’s a blessing. Now it doesn’t feel like a blessing at the time. It’s like when a little kid does wrong and gets dealt with, or even gets a spanking. Does the kids feel good at the time? No. But is it really good for the kid to be dealt with for doing something wrong? Yes. It’s the same with conviction of sin and repentance. We don’t feel good at the time, but it’s really for our own good. Are you willing to repent of your sins when convicted or confronted by them? Do you regularly go to God in prayer with confession and repentance from sin? Or is your pride so great that you resist and refuse to ever repent? You’d be surprised at how many so-called Christians who simply never learned to confess and repent of their sins. It makes you wonder how they ever became a Christian in the first place, or if they ever did become a Christian at all. Be willing to be convicted of your sins and repent of those sins.

Third, repentance towards God was preached. Acts 3:19, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing my come from the Lord.” Notice it says, “Repent, then, and turn to God.” It’s not enough to repent and turn away from sin; that’s essential, but not enough. It’s possible to repent and turn away from sin, but not also turn to God. For example, Judas, if you remember, felt the conviction of sin for betraying Jesus, felt remorse, was convicted of conscience – so far so good – but never did turn to God in faith and in order to receive forgiveness. Instead, he went out and killed himself. It’s dangerous to repent and turn from sin but then fail to repent and turn towards God. Remember the story of the demon possessed man who was delivered from the demons, but failed to put God in the center of his life afterwards? Matthew 12:43-45, “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse then the first.” It’s the same with repentance. If you feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit for your sins, repent of your sins, or in other words, turn away from your sins, quit them, stop doing them. But that isn’t enough. Also, repent or turn towards God in addition. I go by the AA meeting house on 2nd and Church Streets around noon every day and see the parking lot packed with people trying to turn away from alcohol, but I’m afraid that unless they replace the alcohol with God they may be replacing one addiction with another eventually. I know of some AA members who make the AA meeting their church, and AA their religion. Yes, it helps them repent or turn away from drinking, but it doesn’t lead them to salvation in Jesus Christ. In fact, it can lead a person to dependency on AA, so that people start looking to the program for their spiritual salvation. But AA won’t satisfy the soul for salvation. It’s great at getting a person to repent of alcohol, turning away from the demon of drink, but it won’t save the soul, it won’t bring forgiveness of sins, it won’t bring eternal life or righteousness with God. Only the gospel can bring that. So Peter preaches repentance from sin and repentance to God, turning to God in repentance. A lot of times today we’ll hear ministers invite people to turn to God, to commit to Christ, to believe in the gospel. That’s all fine and good, accept they don’t preach enough repentance from sin. How can a person turn to Christ in repentance unless they’ve turned away from sin, forsaken sin, dealt seriously with their own rebellious heart? This is the big omission in churches today, I’m afraid. It’s easy to invite people to a positive belief in Christ, but it’s not so easy to call people to negatively repent from sin, turn from their sins, forsake and give up their sins in order to receive Christ.

The original gospel preaching of the apostles included strong preaching about sin which produced a strong conviction of sin in the hearts of the people. After convicting the people of sin, the apostles then would call for repentance from sin. They invited people to forsake their sins – just like John the Baptist used to do. People had to be willing to forsake sin, turn from sin, quit sin, stop sinning – or at least be willing to stop. But sadly today, people have it in their minds that they’d like to trust Jesus and keep on sinning, they want to follow Jesus and also follow their old sinful attitudes and behaviors. The apostles never, ever gave the impression that a Christian could do that. To the contrary, they made it very clear that to turn to God through Jesus Christ meant turning away from sin also. Repentance from sin and repentance towards God were both required and demanded. Now let’s ask ourselves today: have you turned from your sins? Or are you still clinging to certain sins in stubborn disobedience? Are you convicted by God of your sins today? How do you react to that conviction of the Spirit? Do you ignore it? Are you bothered by it? Are you doing anything to change? If you have sin in your life – and who doesn’t in one way, shape or form – then confess that sin, repent or turn away from that sin. If you need help in turning away, humble yourself and get help from someone else. Maybe God wants you to humble yourself and admit that you need someone else to help you turn away from sin. Maybe God not only wants to deal with your specific sin but also with your pride at the same time by forcing you to get outside help. One of the great things about AA is that it forces an alcoholic to admit that he needs help, that he can’t solve his own problem by himself. That takes humility to admit that you can’t do it yourself, that you need help. That’s a big part of the cure. Well, maybe you need help in repenting. Remember, like verse 26 says, repentance is a blessing, turning us away from our wickedness is a blessing. If you have to seek out the blessing of repentance from someone else, with their help, do it. But then, don’t just turn away from sin, but also turn toward God also. Don’t just remove something from your life, add something, add God, add God’s Word, add prayer, add church, add God’s will for your life. What happens if you remove sin from your life without adding God to your life? You run the risk of being worse off than you were before. Why? Because you’ve only repented half-way. Full repentance is turning from sin and self to fully embracing God. Have you ever fully repented? If not, now is the time. Why wait?


%d bloggers like this: